‘Significant lead’: Why Bantag skipped Bilibid event on 9 September

There will be additional evidence to be presented when the Department of Justice starts preliminary investigation on the murder charge filed against suspended Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Q. Bantag for the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa last 3 October Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla made the remark after being told that Bantag rushed back to his house in Laguna last 9 September because Lapid was taking videos and photos of his house and his vehicles.

On that day, Bantag was supposed to attend the graduation ceremony at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City for persons deprived of liberty who took courses provided by the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta.

“It’s a significant lead that he was absent on that day because on that day Percy Lapid went to his house to examine, to take pictures of his house and his vehicles,” Remulla said.

“The narrations given to me (last 8 November) are very clear about this matter,” he said.

Bantag, as “principal by inducement,” and several others were charged last 7 November with murder for the killings of Lapid and NBP’s PDL Cristito Villamor who was identified by self-confessed gunman Joel S. Escorial as his “middleman” in the slaying of the radio commentator.

“Actually, this is really for the prosecutors to introduce into evidence about the absence of General Bantag in the 9 September graduation in Bilibid,” he said.

Remulla explained that Lapid had come out with an expose about a “Cinderella Man” which was shown on his program “Lapid Fire” back in September.

He noted that all of the board of trustees of the university were present during the graduation ceremony last 9 September.

“They’re all present. These are people who really are doing a great service to the national penitentiary because they’re providing college education to many of the inmates who want to do it,” he said.
“’When he did not return there, it is also a sign that he was very mad, he was very, very livid about it,” Remulla said.

Another mastermind

In a related development, the Philippine National Police said it is still open to the possibility that another influential mastermind aside from Bantag was involved in the Lapid killing.

PNP spokesperson Police Colonel Jean Fajardo on Wednesday said that the PNP has not shut down that possibility if it crops out during the conduct of the preliminary investigation, actual trial and official filing of the case that there are more people involved in the case.

“We can always file a supplemental complaint,” she said in answer to a remark that Roy Mabasa, Lapid’s brother had wished that there are no more individuals behind the killing.

The National Bureau of Investigation, on the other hand, is also not discounting the possibility of a more powerful mastermind other than Bantag.

NBI supervising agent Atty. Eugene Javier said they have been receiving intelligence reports about another supposed mastermind, but he said he cannot divulge this information pending verification.

As this developed, Southern Police District director P/Brig. Gen. John Kirby Kraft pointed out that former President Rodrigo Duterte was not among the 160 persons of interest in Lapid’s killing.

The list includes politicians, military, and police officials who Lapid called out in his radio program.

Mabasa has reportedly stated recently that his family was wondering if Duterte was one of the 160 persons of interest being considered by the PNP.

To this, Kraft replied: “That was negative.”

As this developed, Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, Duterte’s former police chief and staunch ally, pleaded to spare the former president from insinuations that he had a hand in the killing.

“He has no motive,” he emphasized, stressing that there is a need to respect the results of the joint investigation of the PNP and the NBI. “He has no reason to silence the commentator now that he is retired.”

“Why would he kill him? You have already retired, you’re no longer a president, so why didn’t you kill him while you were still a president? You suddenly got interested killing a man now that you’re no longer in power? So the motive is malayo (vague),” De la Rosa said in a media briefing at the Senate.

State witness

Mabasa, who is also a journalist, urged Bantag to answer the allegations against him and to provide more information on the case.

He said Bantag may qualify for the Witness Protection Program should he divulge more names related to the case if there are any.

Mabasa said that is the reason why he is urging Bantag to come out and tell what he knows.

“I do not know the procedure but if he were to tell another truth, we will accept it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Remulla believes Bantag and his BuCor deputy Ricardo Zulueta are still in the country because they are government officials and therefore cannot leave the country without travel authority unless they secured passports that did not reflect their true professions.

He also called on Bantag to file his counter affidavit and discouraged him from responding to the allegations through the press.

“I hope they would answer in a counter affidavit. They should not give their side through the media. That’s the process of our law. They should respect the law. They are servants of the law and then they respond like that?”

“No drama. Face it like a man. If you are not a man, if you cannot face it, then what are you? Face it. Too much drama,” he added.

The National Bureau of Investigation indeed said Bantag and Zulueta are still in the Philippines.

On Monday, the PNP and the NBI filed double murder charges against Bantag and several others including Zulueta for Lapid’s killing.

Escorial surrendered to the authorities and pointed to Villamor as the person who acted as a middleman to facilitate the plot to kill the broadcaster.

According to sworn statements by fellow inmates, Villamor was killed inside the NBP after he was identified as the middleman in the slay plot.

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